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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Turkish forces kill 48 Islamic State fighters in Syrian town of al-Bab

More than four months ago, Turkish air and ground forces launched Operation Euphrates on behalf of Syrian rebels to drive Islamic State(IS) or ISIS forces from the Turkish border.

In a statement on Monday, Turkey's armed forces announced that they had killed 48 militants on Sunday. Turkish warplanes claimed to have destroyed 25 buildings and shelters used by IS. During recent weeks, the Turks have been besieging the strategic town of al-Bab. Al-Bab is the last major town held by IS in Aleppo province. Several times a week Turkey has been issuing reports claiming that dozens of IS fighters had been killed. The reports leave open the question as to exactly how many IS fighters remain in the town of about 60,000. The reports do not usually mention civilian casualties and rarely report their own casualties or those of rebels. However, on the enclosed video the Turks do report on civilian casualties.
Turkey has been asking for increased U.S. air support to help it out. The Pentagon wants to avoid increasing tensions with Turkey as it is quite dependent on the Incirlik air base for its operations in Syria. The Pentagon began air flights over the city but so far has not launched any air attacks. Already Russian airstrikes have supported the offensive in the surrounding area. The U.S. is now carrying out what it calls "aerial intelligence surveillance" in the area to help the Turkish forces. Earlier, the U.S. sent one plane over the city and called it a "show of force". The low level of support given by the U.S. compared to Russia is a sore spot for Turkey.
The Turks with their rebel allies have now taken most of the territory west of the Euphrates formerly held by the Islamic State. The territory has been handed over to a coalition of rebel forces. The U.S. is worried that the Turks will confront Kurdish YPG forces that the U.S. supports. Turkish officials say they will move on to take Manbij, a city along the Euphrates under control of the YPG.
In spite of the fact that the U.S. is now mounting a number of aerial surveillance flights, officials are said to worry about ensuring that they do not clash with Turkish or Russian flights. A defense official said: “Flying anywhere in Syria is complicated. Flying up in that area where everyone seems to be flying would require some work. I wouldn’t say we aren’t worried about it.”
The U.S. is considering sending direct weapons shipments to Kurdish YPG forces advancing on Raqqa, the IS de facto capital. The Turks consider the group a terrorist organization and are opposed to any such move. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that ceasing to cooperate with the YPG was one of two main expectations Turkey had of the United States. The other was that the U.S. would extradite Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US, to Turkey where he would face charges that the orchestrated the recent coup attempt.
The Turkish President Recep Erdogan said that he thought that U.S.-Turkish relations would gain momentum once Trump was inaugurated on January 20. Trump's designated national security adviser Michael Flynn wrote an op-ed that the U.S. should agree to extradite Gulen and stop criticism of Turkey whom he considered a key ally. As Turkey's relations with Russia improve, under Trump Turkish relations with the United States may also show some improvement.


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